In her graduation address to the Mount Airy Class of 2016, Salutatorian Keara Sheehan Halpern noted that as an 18-year-old, she felt in no position to offer any life lessons.
“I am on the cusp of adulthood but have not actually gained any experience as an adult yet, so I am not going to discuss wisdom I don’t have,” she said to the group of about 120 fellow graduates waiting “in navy blue gowns that are slowly cooking us.”
On a bright, hot Saturday morning, the seniors crossed the stage at Wallace Shelton Stadium June 11 and, diploma in hand, entered a new phase of life.
In a teasing speech woven around her eldest brother’s “impeccable hindsight about how high school graduation was no big deal,” Halpern may have disproven her own point, demonstrating wisdom beyond her years by placing the rite of passage where it would likely fit in the scope of lives yet to be lived.
“This moment is the first step toward the rest of our lives, it is unimportant in the way that our first baby steps are unimportant to us,” she said. “We don’t think about our first steps every time we walk, but without them we literally couldn’t have gotten where we are today.
“So as we take our first steps today, I think we should do it knowing we have places to go. Whether you are going to college, the workforce, the armed forces, or wherever the next step takes you, you are doing so with the intention of achieving more because of the past 12 years. So congratulations Class of 2016 on your first steps, I know the rest to follow will be even more amazing.”
Valedictorian Jack McClusky also spoke of entering the “real” world, “like the past 17 or 18 years have been a trial run and now we get to take on the full version,” referencing the group’s shared experience of growing up in “Mayberry.”
“Eventually we have to leave our sitcom town and see what is out in the world,” he said, adding that “No matter where we wind up or what we do, Mount Airy is where we grew up. This town will always have a special place in our hearts despite hearing the Andy Griffith theme song a few thousand times over the years.”
The class leader said he took “a page out of Mr. Hayes’ playbook,” and quoted Arnold Schwarzenegger to deliver some life advice to his fellow graduates, which included, “I guess if there is a secret it is don’t ever reach the peak. Always stay hungry.”
McClusky said he did have a piece of his own advice to add: “Surround yourself with the people you love being with.”
Dr. Sandy George, high school principal, closed the ceremony by remarking to the students, “you are so much more than a job.”
Listing through a variety of colleges and their mascots, which were met with cheers and the occasional animal noise, George noted that one thing will always bind the graduates as they go their separate ways.
“You will always be connected as Mount Airy Granite Bears.”
Reach Terri Flagg at 415-4734.